Ahoy there, me hearties! Those old salts at Aardman Studios have come up with a rollicking comedy adventure that more than lives up to the company’s tradition of teeming visual invention and quirky fun.
Directed by Aardman co-founder Peter Lord and adapted by Gideon Defoe from his own novel, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists features the oddest crew of briny rogues ever to sail the seven seas, a spectacularly useless bunch of cutthroats whose inability to amass any booty has stymied the long-held dream of Hugh Grant’s Pirate Captain of winning the Pirate of the Year award. Their fortunes look set to change, however, when they capture ocean-going young naturalist Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who only wriggles out of walking the plank by observing that the ship’s beloved parrot is in fact the planet’s last surviving dodo. The discovery might just win them the loot they’ve been seeking, if they can successfully bamboozle London’s scientific elite and get the better of pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).
As the pirates sail through one outlandish scrape after another, the gags shoot forth thicker than grapeshot. Everyone should find something to chuckle over. Kids will love the giddy slapstick while adults will cherish the wilful anachronisms, including a nice line in evolution jokes. (‘You’re not related, are you?’ inquires the Captain of Darwin and his monocle-wearing monkey butler.)
The voice cast supply further riches. Grant isn’t the most obvious choice to play a hearty, luxuriantly bearded pirate leader but his comic timing is a joy and he’s well backed by his crew, who all go by such descriptive names as the Pirate with a Scarf (Martin Freeman), the Pirate with Gout (Brendan Gleeson) and Ashley Jensen’s Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, whose true gender doesn’t appear to have been twigged by anyone on board, notwithstanding ‘his’ blatantly fake beard. It’ll take a lot longer, though, to spot all the treasures the filmmakers have secreted in every frame of this lovingly crafted stop-motion animation delight.
Movie Talk star rating:
On general release from Wednesday 28th March.